Americans have long been obsessed with making sure their kids have high self-esteem. In the 1970’s, author Nathaniel Branden suggested that every psychological problem “from anxiety and depression, to fear of intimacy or of success, to spouse battery or child molestation” is linked to poor self-esteem.
Today, our obsession with self-esteem has taken us to the point where we are telling our kids they can be whatever gender they want and that they don’t need to worry about their weight.
When it comes to weight, we are taught to help others see themselves as beautiful. The goal is to boost self-esteem, which Americans view in connection with success.
The term “body positivity” refers to the idea that we should accept our bodies no matter what size or shape they are.
“[Body positivity] is the understanding that your worth and what’s going on with you physically are two separate entities – that no matter what’s happening inside, outside, or to your body, you’re still just as worthwhile as the person next to you,” explains Mallorie Dunn, founder of the body positive fashion line SmartGlamour.
The body positivity movement emerged in part to discourage “fat-shaming,” or mocking a person based on weight. Fat-shaming has been linked to psychological distress, weight gain, and unhealthy behavior.
But it is also harmful to praise a person for unhealthy behavior.
A recent study published in the journal of Obesity suggests that up to 60% of British men who are overweight or obese think they weigh less than they do. For women, the rate was 30%. Researchers noted that people unaware of their own weight were far less likely to try to lose weight. And this makes sense in a world where we are taught that we are perfect just the way we are.
At the end of the day, developing heart problems because you are overweight is not better than having low self-esteem because you think you’re fat.
As conservative author and political commentator Ben Shapiro explains, “Self-esteem shouldn’t be disconnected from achievement. Doing so leads to a lack of active decision-making. That holds true whether we’re discussing obesity or whether we’re discussing any other status that can be altered by decision-making. Self-esteem must be earned, not given.”
Along with smoking and high blood pressure, obesity is among the top three causes of death in the United States.
Obesity is particularly dangerous because it increases your risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Obesity is also associated with poor mental health outcomes, reduced quality of life, and economic loss.
And while many industrialized countries are experiencing an increase in obesity, rates in the US are the highest in the world.
Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of American women are obese or overweight. Nearly 30% of kids under age 20 are overweight or obese (up from 19% in 1980). Rates are far higher among women than men, with the CDC estimating that 63% of teenage girls are overweight by age 11.
In 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted that 3/4 of the American population would be overweight or obese by the year 2020.
In light of this information, does it really make sense that we are telling our children it’s okay to be overweight? The answer is no.
On top of that, unearned self-esteem is not helpful when it comes to solving life problems.
“Lack of unearned self-esteem is helpful in overcoming obstacles,” notes Shapiro. “You should feel good about yourself when you’ve accomplished something. Again, that doesn’t mean that we should shame people who can’t change themselves. But doing the opposite and praising people for failing to make better decisions isn’t likely to incentivize healthier decisions. It’s likely to reinforce the notion that nothing needs to change. And sometimes something needs to change.”